FaithWorld

Heaven is a fairy tale, says British physicist Stephen Hawking

(Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking speaks at Perimeter Institute For Theoretical Physics in Kitchener, Canada, June 20, 2010/Sheryl Nadler)

Heaven is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark, the eminent British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking said in an interview published on Monday. Hawking, 69, was expected to die within a few years of being diagnosed with degenerative motor neurone disease at the age of 21, but became one of the world’s most famous scientists with the publication of his 1988 book “A Brief History of Time”.

“I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first,” he told the Guardian newspaper. “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

Hawking gave the interview ahead of the Google Zeitgeist meeting in London where he will join speakers including British finance minister George Osborne and Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. Addressing the question “Why are we here?” he will argue tiny quantum fluctuations in the very early universe sowed the seeds of human life.

His 2010 book “The Grand Design” provoked a backlash among religious leaders, including chief rabbi Lord Sacks, for arguing there was no need for a divine force to explain the creation of the universe.

God did not create the universe, gravity did, says Stephen Hawking

hawkingGod did not create the universe and the “Big Bang” was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics, the eminent British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking argues in a new book.

In “The Grand Design,” co-authored with U.S. physicist Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking says a new series of theories made a creator of the universe redundant, according to the Times newspaper which published extracts on Thursday. (Photo: Stephen Hawking,  June 20, 2010/Sheryl Nadler)

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist,” Hawking writes. “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

Scientists inch towards finding elusive “God particle” creating cosmos

LHC 1 (Photo: A core magnet in CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, March 22, 2007/Denis Balibouse)

Scientists working with particle accelerators in Europe and the United States said on Monday they may be closing in on the elusive Higgs Boson, the “God particle” believed crucial to forming the cosmos after the Big Bang.

Researchers from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) project near Geneva said in just three months of experiments they had already detected all the particles at the heart of our current understanding of physics, the Standard Model.

The International Conference on High Energy Physics in Paris heard that experiments were progressing faster than expected and entering a stage in which “new physics” would emerge. This could include long-awaited proof of the existence of the Higgs Boson and the detection of dark matter, believed to make up about a quarter of the universe alongside an observable 5 percent and 70 percent consisting of invisible dark energy.

Did God stop CERN from discovering the “God particle”?

collider-1The great quantum physicist Niels Bohr once said a colleague’s new theory was crazy, but perhaps not crazy enough to be correct. Two scientists seem to have taken that approach to heart when they speculated that God may have shut down the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva to keep it from discovering the elusive “God particle.” (Photo: Part of the Large Hadron Collider, 22 March 2007/Denis Balibouse)

According to an essay in the New York Times, the scientists are trying to explain why the collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator turned on with great fanfare in September 2008 by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), was closed down for major repairs just over a week later. The 3 billion-euro collider was supposed to track down the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle believed to have given mass to the universe milliseconds after the Big Bang created it some 15 billion years ago.

Physicists think this minuscule speck of matter, if ever found, could explain the mysterious code at the origin of the physical world. To know this would be to “know the mind of God”, as Einstein put it. The Nobel Prize winning physicist Leon Lederman dubbed the Higgs boson the “God particle” in a book of the same name 15 years ago.

The scientist who leaves room for spirituality

bde-11 (Photos: Bernard d’Espagnat, 13 March 2009/Charles Platiau)

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant once wrote that he “had to deny knowledge to make room for faith.” The French physicist Bernard d’Espagnat hasn’t denied knowledge in his long career developing the philosophy that won him this year’s $1.42 million Templeton Prize. He was pursuing knowledge to better understand what we can know about the ultimate reality of the world. But just like his philosophy echoes that of Kant’s with its conviction that there are limits on knowing reality, his work leaves some room — he would say for spirituality — by saying that human intuitions like art, music and spirituality can help us go further when science searching to understand the world reaches the end of its tether.

D’Espagnat’s prize was announced at UNESCO in Paris on Monday. The quantum physics at the core of his work presents baffling insights about reality, but his philosophical conclusions from them sound like common sense. Science is an amazing discipline that opens vast areas of knowledge but cannot go all the way to explaining ultimate reality. There’s a mystery at the core of our existence that we can get a little closer to through the untestable but undeniable intuitions we have. That “little closer” still leaves a large black hole in our knowledge, but it is more than we have if we only rely on empirical science.

As often happens in cases like this, d’Espagnat was available for embargoed interviews several days before the prize was announced. I had the pleasure of meeting him on Friday at the Lutetia, a five-star hotel only a short bike ride from my more modest digs in Paris. Now 87 years old, d’Espagnat can look back on a long and illustrious career as a senior physicist at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, professor at the University of Paris (at its science hub in the suburb of Orsay) and guest lecturer at universities and conferences abroad. His latest book in English, On Physics and Philosophy, came out in the United States in 2006.